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12/16/2011

El Silencio de los Corderos, The Silence of the Lambs, Musings by Alberto Gil, A Journalist from La Rioja Who Reported on the 2009 Pancho Campo-Interpol and Robert Parker WineFuture Rioja Controversy

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Veteran Riojan journalists Alberto Gil (l) and Casimiro Somalo (r) of http://larioja.com at a friendly 
gathering of several wine lovers at the popular traditional restaurant, El Lagar, in Logroño, La Rioja. 
Photo by Gerry Dawes©2010 / gerrydawes@aol.com.

Some people in Spain suspect that Alberto Gil, a veteran journalist in La Rioja may have been the Deep Throat source of information about Pancho Campo before the highly controversial WineFuture Rioja 2009 event.  The reports from larioja.com and investigations by Alberto Gil led to Jim Budd of Jim's Loire, a British investigative wine journalist to take an interest in the Pancho Campo - Robert M. Parker, Jr. connection.  

Gil's direct involvement in investigating Campo and the Interpol warrant caused Campo to resign under pressure (most agreed in name only)  before the WineFuture Rioja 2009 event and appoint American Kevin Zraly as his successor as Director of the event (Zraly was considered Pancho Campo's "straw man" for the event by many observers.)  Nonetheless, Campo showed up to run the event, speak at the event, sit on panels and participate in formal wine tastings. 

Robert M. Parker, Jr. of The Wine Advocate was paid a purported 100,000 Euros for appearing at WineFuture Rioja.  During the event, at his request a master tasting was planned using Garnacha-based wines, all of which came from outside La Rioja, including several from neighboring Aragón.  This scheduled tasting, as more people became aware of it, caused such a row that even politicians from La Rioja got involved and the tasting was done with the addition of the very rare bodega library wine, Marqués de Riscal 1947, and Contador, a modern Rioja wine with no Garnacha, both of which were belatedly put into the tasting in an attempt to appease increasingly vociferous critics. 

As it turned out, in that WineFuture Rioja 2009 Garnacha tasting with Robert M. Parker, Jr., Parker's friend, Spaniard Jorge Ordoñez*, who imports Spanish wines into the United States under his Jorge Ordoñez - Fine Estates From Spain label, had three wines in the tasting while the Comunidad de La Rioja and the La Rioja D.O., sponsors of the event, had just two.  

The score was like a soccer match: Ordoñez 3, La Rioja 2.  The irony was not lost on journalists like Alberto Gil, who love their wine region and chafed under seeing La Rioja get the short end of the stick in this tasting.

(*For many years Ordoñez has enjoyed an especially close relationship with Parker.  Jay Miller's first trip to Spain as Parker's Spain "expert" taster was with Ordoñez, a trip** that was purportedly quite a bit more lavish than the one Miller took with Ordoñez when Miller was working as a partner in a Baltimore retail.) 

(**From Robert M. Parker Jr.'s Ethical Standards [Copied directly from www.erobertparker.com]
"In order to pursue this independence effectively, it is imperative that I keep a distance from the trade. While this may be misinterpreted as aloofness, such independence guarantees hard hitting, candid, and uninfluenced commentary. . .

. . . The same standards of tasting free of external influence as well as unbiased reviews I have followed for 30+ years are expected from all independent wine critics working on assignments for The Wine Advocate or eRobertParker.com. . .
 

. . . All writers hired as independent contractors must certify that they maintain rigid standards of independence and integrity, writing about what is in the bottle, free of external pressure. . .
 
. . . I have kept the wine trade at arm’s length over the last three plus decades, and I realize that as rigorously high as my own particular standards are, it is neither possible nor realistic to expect such standards with the independent wine critics who work for me. . .

The following is Alberto Gil's latest take on the situation in an article posted on larioja.com.  
(I have tweaked the Google translation.  I apologize in advance for any quirks.)


El silencio de los corderos
(The Silence of the Lambs***)

by Alberto Gil, larioja.com
14 December 2011

(***The title refers the nearly universal silence of the Spanish press that during the 2009 Pancho Campo-Interpol-WineFuture Rioja controversy, during which it was claimed that many journalists were threatened with legal action, a claim now confirmed by some who are now speaking out and writing about the current so-called Murcia-Jumilla gate controversy.)

"I remember two issues in my professional career in which journalistic passion carried me to extremes. One of them is known, (it was) a false accusation filed in court for alleged assault on the mother of the clan by the family of a former woman vice president of the government of La Rioja, Arancha Vallejo, because of (my) reporting on the illegal uprooting of a vineyard. (GD: Albert Gil was proved innocent of what was a trumped up charge against a journalist for reporting on illegal activities.)

The other was the case with Pancho Campo, who landed in Logroño with WineFuture Rioja 2009, with full institutional support and (with support) from major wineries that had been placed on the organizing committee.  Pancho Campo enticed to some of the top wine experts on earth to Logroño, for an event that initially was supposed to take place in Jerez, but changed course at the last minute because of money considerations.  Among them was Robert Parker (The Wine Advocate), who had never before shown interest in wines of this country.

Campo had been convicted in absentia (he “cut out” before trial) and was sentenced to a year in prison in UAE (The United Arab Emirates) in 2003 for allegedly swindling a million dollars (reportedly €650,000) from his ex-partner as a music concert promoter and was being sought by Interpol.  When we asked for explanations about this fact, months before WineFuture Rioja, Campo endlessly lied to the organization, but WineFuture Rioja went on anyway and eventually resulted in the embarrassing awarding of the the (Spanish) Medal of Merit to Robert Parker.

Pancho, whose company had been previously convicted for non-payment for a 'festival' in Barcelona, always maintained in Rioja that his problem with Interpol was the result of an alleged plot against him that had been concocted through the extraordinary influence and money of his former partner in Dubai, Jackie Wartanian.  During several months (of investigating) I never met anyone able to confirm this far-fetched story. The journalist Jim Budd, in Decanter, published on September 4, 2009 the arrest warrant from Interpol against Campo, after which not one national or regional publication paid attention to this news.

After the explosion in Decanter, the pressure on Pancho Campo--police sources confirmed to me personally that Campo, despite what he had claimed, had been rescued from extradition to United Arab Emirates by an agreement with the Spanish Council of Ministers in 2008 and was fully aware of the facts of the (real) charges against him--was too much and he was forced to resign from the Wine Future (as Director of the event).

Just days before the (WineFuture Rioja) event, after a private dinner, which I attended, he was asked to resign after failing to prove, as he had assured the Rioja officials who had made him their spokesman he could, that he had never been arrested, or detained, in Spain because of  the international United Arab Emirates arrest warrant.  And he also claimed that he never knew anything about the case (in Dubai) until just a few months before, when the reality is that he had fled the United Arab Emirates in 2003 to to avoid prosecution. Namely, the whole string of lies-- which also included the use of veiled threats of the best and most prestigious law firms--with which (Campo) sustained his claim of an alleged plot (in Dubai) collapsed.

Pancho, at least then, could count on powerful "godfather-like"figures such as the President of the Spanish Academy of Gastronomy, Rafael Anson, among others, and the complicit attitude of the Spanish and international wine press, which, even though now the fire had been fueled, turned a deaf ear on WineFuture Rioja.

Now, Jim Budd (Jim’s Loire), as he did in September of 2009, has returned to uncover another scandal. Campo, through his The Wine Academy company, has been charging thousands of dollars to bring Robert Parker’s (now former) critic for Spanish wines, Jay Miller, to give lectures at different Spanish denominations of origin events, a business that is difficult to explain about a person who assesses and rates Spanish wines for the most influential publication of the wine world, precisely, one that preaches independence (free of outside influences).

The Wine Advocate has fired Jay Miller (GD note: the official line is that he “retired,” something they are now saying has been in the works since January.)  Now, the British wine writer Neal Martin has replaced Miller as the Wine Advocate’s Spanish wine taster.  Martin, until now responsible for South Africa, New Zealand and Sauternes, who in 2006 certainly said that he was neither interested or did he know anything about Spanish wines.

As a good friend told me during Wine Future Rioja 2009, "the flexibility of a reed supports a gale better than the rigidity of an oak tree, and, if you want to see this liar fall, you had better learn to be a little more flexible*."  (*GD note: The friend advised Alberto Gil to let up on his journalistic crusade because Gil was almost fired from his job.  He suggested that Gil should not matyr himself, predicting that Campo would eventually self-destruct.)

(PDTA: With many greetings to the disbelieving journalists and bloggers, like myself, Jim Budd, Gerry Dawes, Harold (Heckle) and Manuel Camblor, who saw Pancho Campo walk with head held high during Wine Future Rioja 2009, with the approval of the entire wine sector, the politicians and the Spanish press.")
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